"Who Is Jesus?" part 1
What Does the Resurrection Prove about Jesus?
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
April 4, 2010



BEGINNING OF SERVICE:

Today is Easter, and there are all kinds of traditions surrounding Easter…

In Scotland, they celebrate Easter by rolling decorated eggs down a steep hill.

Down in Louisiana, every Easter they hold an egg tapping context, where you try to tap two eggs together without cracking either egg. The last person with their eggs intact wins.

In Bermuda, they celebrate by eating fish cakes.

In the Netherlands, between Good Friday and Easter, all the Church bells are silent, but begin ringing again on Easter morning.

In Norway --  and don’t ask me why – but they have a tradition of watching murder mysteries on Easter.

Be glad you don’t live in the Czech Republic. They have a tradition of men spanking the women with a handmade whip at Easter. Or in Slovakia, the tradition is that the men throw cold water on the women. Apparently, there’s a tradition that says that it helps women keep their health and beauty for the next year. And just to add to this bizarre custom, the women often give a coloured egg or a small amount of money to the men to thank them.

And maybe you have your own unique Easter traditions. But there’s one tradition that goes back centuries, perhaps all the way back to the early Church, when Christ followers would greet each other in a certain way. One would say, “He Is Risen” and the other would respond “He Is Risen Indeed”. So let’s try that together…

He Is Risen!
He Is Risen Indeed!

And that’s why we’re here this morning: to celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. On Friday, some of us gathered here to remember the sacrifice that Jesus made for each of us when He freely gave His life on the cross. And we talked about how that sacrifice meant that He was paying the price for our sinfulness, offering us forgiveness in its place.

But Jesus dying wasn’t the end of the story… because Jesus also rose from the dead and is alive and well today. So as we get started this morning, I’m going to ask Derek to come and read one of the passages that tells us about the Resurrection…

**********************

How many of you had a birthday in the past year? How did you celebrate it? Did you have a party? Did you invite over a few friends? Did you get together with family? Let me ask you this… whoever you spent your birthday with, how did they react when you described the day of your birth? You did do that, didn’t you? You did call everyone together and explain, “This is what happened the day I was born… it was 2:07 in the morning, it was a very special day… even my mother was there… the doctors waited until the contractions were this far apart… You did do that, didn’t you?

Okay, probably not. Because even while birthdays used to be a day to celebrate the day of your birth, they’ve kind of morphed from that and now they celebrate your age. Now it’s not about your actual birthday; it’s about how old you are now, about presents, about cake… about all these different things.

Or how about Labour Day? Last September 7th, how did you celebrate the economic and social achievements of the work force? You do know that’s what Labour Day is for, don’t you? What did you think it was for? Taking a day off, sleeping in, doing some chores around the house, and having some friends over for that last BBQ of the summer? Or maybe you know Labour Day as the last day of the year you can wear white?

Or how about Canada Day? On July 1st, how many of you actually gather everyone around, pull out a copy of the British North America Act, and read through it? How many of you have ever even seen a copy of the British North America Act? That’s how Canada Day started, but now what do you think of when you think of Canada Day? You think about flags and fireworks, right?

Well, today is Easter. What do you think of when you think of Easter? A lot of people think about Easter eggs, Bunnies, weird commercials where bunnies lay Easter eggs… you might think about pastel colours, about Easter baskets, maybe you watch “It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown”… I know we did this week… maybe you think of Easter as the beginning Spring…

Maybe you include some religious or spiritual context… maybe you do think about Church and about Christianity… in fact, a recent survey in the States revealed that 67% of Americans know that Easter has something to do with God. But less than half could tell you what it’s really about, and only 2% described Easter as the most important holiday of their faith. Here, take a look at some of the responses when some people on the street were asked what they thought the meaning of Easter is.

VIDEO – THE MEANING OF EASTER (SermonVideos.com)

Okay, some people got it or were on the right track; others were way off. But Easter is not a celebration of rabbits laying eggs, or about candy and chocolate… it’s not even about celebrating Jesus and His teachings or about Christianity or the Church… Easter is a celebration of a specific event in history. In fact, it’s the most important event in history. It’s about the day that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Now, some people treat the Resurrection like it’s just a church thing… if you’re into that kind of thing, then it’s true for you and that’s great. Other people think it’s just a fairy tale… not something that really happened, just a story that was made up decades or even centuries later. Other people think you can just take it or leave it… it really doesn’t matter.

And you know what? If the Resurrection didn’t actually happen, then it really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what you believe, it doesn’t matter who Jesus was… in fact, if the Resurrection didn’t happen, then Jesus was just a guy who had some interesting things to say, and you can pick and choose what you want, you can quote Him in books, but He certainly wouldn’t be someone to place your faith in today.

But… what if the Resurrection really did happen? What would that prove about Jesus? How would that affect the way you view Him and treat Him today? What difference would it make to your life?

Of course, that’s a pretty big leap, isn’t it? Believing in the Resurrection? What evidence is there that it was a real event… that it actually happened in time/space history? Is it something you just choose to believe in or not believe in, or is there actually evidence that supports the conclusion that it really happened?

You know, Christianity out of all the faiths in the world, is the easiest one to discredit. All you have to do is disprove the Resurrection. It’s central to Christianity, and if you can show conclusively that it could not and did not happen, then that would be the end of Christianity.

The world famous atheist Christopher Hitchens wrote a book back in 2007 trying to disprove the existence of God, and during his book tour he was asked if he made a distinction between Christians who believe in the Resurrection and Christians who don’t. And while I disagree with a lot of what Christopher Hitchens has to say, his response to that question is one I wholeheartedly agree with…

“I would say that if you don't believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you're really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.”
~ Christopher Hitchens

Christianity is based on the historic Jesus… His life, His death, and most importantly His resurrection. Without the Resurrection, nothing else would really matter.

But you know what? Christopher Hitchens is not the first person to present this argument. As early as 20 years after the crucifixion, the apostle Paul addressed this same problem of throwing belief in the Resurrection out of the Christian faith. I’m going to read for you the whole passage, and then we’re going to go back through it a little at a time. Okay?

1 Corinthians 15:14-15, 17-19 (NLT)
…If Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. …If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

So is there any evidence? Is there any reason to believe in the Resurrection, or is it just a matter of faith? And the reason I ask is that I don’t believe in a blind faith. I believe in a reasonable faith… one that looks where the evidence points and moves in that direction. So what evidence is there for the Resurrection.

We’ve actually talked about some of this before here at Sunrise, but I want to look at some of the evidence again because I want you to understand that you don’t have to be embarrassed because you believe someone came back from the dead, that faith in Jesus can be reasonable and logical, that when you actually look at the evidence it points toward the Resurrection as an actual event in history. So let’s start by talking about the eyewitness accounts…


Why Should I Believe the Resurrection Really Happened?

A.    There are early eyewitness accounts.

And we’ll take a little bit of time with this first one.

Now, the truth is, there are dozens of non-Biblical references to Jesus found in documents from the first and second centuries… from Christians, from historians, from skeptics and nonbelievers, from official government correspondence, from lost works that were quoted in other sources… And they can shed some light on the time of Jesus and how different people viewed Him. But honestly, everything we know about the Resurrection comes from the New Testament. I can’t point to nonChristian documents to prove the Resurrection happened. Which makes perfect sense to me, because if you believed in the Resurrection why would you not become a Christ-follower?

But I don’t really see a reason to ignore the most detailed and the most credible and earliest documents we have… the Books of the New Testament. One of the pet-arguments that skeptics have today is that you can’t use the Bible to prove the Bible. But you know what you can do? Treat the books of the Bible like any other historic book, subject it to something called textual criticism, and determine how reliable they are.

Something that a lot of people don’t seem to realize is that the Bible is not just one book… it’s a collection of 66 different books, written by over 40 different people, and 24 of those books were written by people who either saw Jesus die and saw Him after the Resurrection, or were friends with people who saw Jesus die and saw Him after the Resurrection. So we don’t believe in the Resurrection simply because some book tells us to; we believe it because of seven people who live in the time of Jesus in the vicinity of Jerusalem who were witnesses to what was going on, and who wrote about it, and whose writings have survived through time and have been passed down to us today.

So let’s talk about some of the writers. Let’s start with Matthew. Who was Matthew? What did Matthew do before he followed Jesus? He was a tax-collector. And this is huge. This means Matthew wasn’t really a religious person. He had given up on the Jewish religion and had sided with the Romans and became a tax-collector. He was at best a skeptic. But he writes about how he saw Jesus die and rise from the dead, and for the rest of his life he went around telling people about not about the things Jesus said but about the resurrection. And so if you’re going to reject the Resurrection, then you’ve got to conclude that Matthew was either lying or was confused. And if all we had was Matthew, that would be understandable.

But we also have Mark. Mark was probably Greek, he lived in Jerusalem, his mother was a wealthy businesswoman… We don’t know if Mark actually saw the crucifixion or the Resurrected Jesus, but we do know that Mark was a friend of Peter. And Mark was so convinced by what he heard about Jesus that he took notes and wrote a book about it… the earliest Gospel that we have… earlier this morning Derek read some of what Mark wrote… and Mark would go on to travel with the Apostle Paul telling people about the Resurrection. He was completely convinced.

And then there’s Luke. What was Luke’s background? He was a doctor. So here you have a medical professional who actually believed that someone who was dead came back to life. Plus, Luke was a detailed investigator. Right at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke, he wrote…

Luke 1:1-4 (NLT)
Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.

So Luke wrote that his goal was to write a detailed and accurate account of what had happened, he carefully investigated the evidence and interviewed the eyewitnesses… there were at least 550 people who saw Jesus after the Resurrection, and Luke would have talked with many of them… and he was writing in the very area where the events took place! Which is important, because if he was writing about something that happened in a far-off land, who could argue with him? But he was writing in the same location where the events happened. And if they didn’t happen, the people would have known. Luke believed that the Resurrection really happened, and he would spend the rest of his life traveling throughout Europe and the Mediterranean area telling people about the Resurrected Jesus.

John. John was a fisherman before following Jesus. John wrote the Gospel of John, he wrote three letters we still have copies of today, and he’s believed to have written the book of Revelation. And here’s an interesting thing about John. When Jesus was hanging on the cross dying, Jesus looked at John and asked him to take care of His mother. John was someone very close to Jesus, John was close with the family of Jesus, John watched Jesus die, John visited the empty tomb, John believed Jesus came back to life… and he spent the rest of his life proclaiming that, even having people trying to kill him and being imprisoned and living in exile because of what he believed he saw.

So Matthew, Mark, Luke and John… they all believed that Jesus died and then rose from the dead… so you’ve got to believe that they were all confused, they were all lying, that all the people they interviewed were lying and the evidence the examined was false… or you’ve got to believe what they claimed happened really happened.

Peter was another guy who was also a fisherman. And Peter was a coward. When Jesus was facing execution, Peter was so scared he denied he even knew Jesus. But this same Peter would spend the rest of his life, often risking his life, telling people that Jesus had been crucified and buried, and then rose from the dead. It wasn’t just what he believed, but what he believed he saw. It wasn’t just a matter of faith; it was what he believed really happened.

And how about James? James came around to Jesus a little bit after most of the rest. And I think you can understand why. You see, James was the brother of Jesus. Now, how many of you have a brother? What would it take for you to be convinced that your brother was God in the flesh? James was understandably reluctant to become a follower of Jesus. But James became convinced that Jesus was divine, that He did rise from the dead, and James ended up becoming a leader in the early Church… at great personal risk because to go public with your faith in Jesus made you an enemy of Rome. You were saying that Jesus is king, not Caesar. But James was convinced and he wrote about that.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, James… to discount their story, you’ve got to say they were all lying, that they were all confused, that they were all deceived, you’ve got to discredit them somehow… but you can’t just not believe because you don’t want to believe.

The last one we’re going to talk about here is Paul. Paul wrote about half of the New Testament. And the thing about Paul is, He was originally an enemy of Christians. He thought Christianity was just a corruption of Judaism, and he wanted all Christ-followers to suffer the same fate as Jesus. He wanted them all dead. And so he was a zealous persecutor of Christians. So what happened to him? He had an encounter with Jesus himself, he met with Peter and John and James and all the Apostles, and he became so convinced that Jesus really did rise from the dead that he spent the rest of his life traveling around the known world telling people about Jesus and starting new communities of faith… and the central message he told? That Jesus died, was buried, and rose from the dead.

You’ve got all these people, claiming that Jesus died and was Resurrected, writing about it, and if you follow their story through, they had nothing to gain. Most would be put to death because of their belief that Jesus rose from the dead. They didn’t have anything to gain by lying about it and trying to convince people of something that didn’t happen.

And it’s important to recognize how early these written accounts appeared. There’s always debate about this, but some of the writings can be traced back to within 5-7 years of the crucifixion. 20 years on the outside. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 15:3ff, Paul quotes one of the early Christian creeds about the death and resurrection of Jesus, and it can be traced back to within 18 months! That’s incredibly close for any historical manuscript.

So we have these manuscripts that have survived through time, and if you ask any expert – Christian or not – they would tell you that if you have these many historical documents written so close to the actual events in the same vicinity that the events took place, they would tell you that all this lends credibility to historicity of the events, and that there were probably many other writings that didn’t survive. There were hundreds of people who saw Jesus after the resurrection… individually and in groups… people who talked with Him and touched Him… and the people who saw the Resurrected Jesus had their lives radically transformed and they committed the rest of their lives to telling people of what they saw. The eyewitness testimony alone is overwhelming. But there’s more evidence than just that. (And we’ll move through the rest a bit quicker.)


B.    The disciples were willing to die for their claims.

We’ve already touched on this, but do you realize the disciples had nothing to gain by claiming Jesus rose from the dead? They would be beaten, imprisoned, persecuted, and killed for that claim. But they made their claims anyway, they stuck by them, and were put to death for them.

Now, I am aware that there have been plenty of people throughout history who have died for their faith, whether what they believed was true or not. We’ve seen this in recent days with terrorists and suicide bombers. This is true:

People will willingly die for their faith if they believe it’s true.

But this is equally true:

People will not willingly die for their faith if they know it’s false.

Because nobody knowingly dies for a lie.

Say the disciples really did manage to steal the body and made this whole thing up. Don’t you think that after the first of them was killed because of what he claimed, that the rest of them would have admitted, “Whoa, hold on. We were only joking. We didn’t think you’d take us this seriously. (Please don’t kill us.)” But they didn’t take back their claims, did they? And one by one, they were put to death. As far as we know, only John wasn’t killed for his claims, but they did try to kill him, too.

And yet, despite the persecution, torture, ridicule, and executions, not one of them recanted their story. They maintained that what they claimed they saw, they really saw. Jesus really did rise from the dead.


C.    The empty tomb could not be explained away.

The Roman and Jewish leaders couldn’t disprove that the Resurrection happened. They tried to, they desperately wanted to, but they couldn’t. And the major problem they had was that empty tomb.

Remember, they knew where the body had been placed. Oh, if you traveled to Israel today, you’d find lots of people in different locations charging admission to see the place where Jesus was buried. There are lots of scams like that today.

But the Romans and the Jewish leaders knew exactly where the body of Jesus had been buried. They knew the body of Jesus had been placed in a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea. They knew where that was. In fact, they had ordered that the tomb be sealed with a huge disk-shaped stone, and that there be guards stationed there to make sure nobody tried to pull anything. They knew where the tomb was, no doubt about it.

But then what happened? Within three days, the body was missing. They couldn’t produce the body, they couldn’t show that the body had been stolen, they couldn’t say that he was in a different grave, they couldn’t explain why the highly-trained guards failed, and they couldn’t explain away the appearances. They had all the motivation and power in the world to squash the claims of the disciples… all they had to do was produce the body. But they simply weren’t able to do it because the tomb was empty.

And 2000 years later, even nonChristian historians acknowledge that the tomb was empty. That’s not really a point of dispute; the tomb was empty. They just don’t have an explanation for why it was empty. Because there is no valid alternative for explaining the empty tomb other that the resurrection.


D.    Jesus is still changing lives today.

And this one isn’t really meant to be taken as historic evidence. This one’s a little more subjective. But do you realize that Jesus is still changing lives today? Many of us here know that to be true by personal experience. We have a relationship with Him today. We know that Jesus rose from the dead because we’ve encountered Him ourselves. Our lives have been transformed.

And we believe that power to change is only a reality because Jesus rose from the dead and is alive today. Taken by themselves, you can either accept our personal experiences with Jesus or write them off. But when packaged with the historical and the eyewitness evidence, this personal experience that so many of us have had becomes relevant and points toward a resurrection.


So that’s some of the evidence for the resurrection. And there’s more we could have talked about. Just do a search online and you’ll find plenty of arguments in support of believing in the Resurrection as a real, historic event.

“We don't have to believe in the resurrection in spite of the facts. Instead, we believe in the resurrection in light of the facts.”
~ Steve Cable, Probe Ministries
http://www.probe.org/site/c.fdKEIMNsEoG/b.4223607/k.331D/The_Answer_Is_the_Resurrection.htm


So what does this mean? So what if the Resurrection really happened? What difference does it make? What does it prove?


Conclusion:

The Resurrection proves that Jesus is the Son of God

This is part one in a series we’re going to be doing over the next several weeks called, “Who Is Jesus?” And right off the bat, we need to understand that Jesus is the Son of God. We’ll be talking more about that and what that means as we work our way through this series. And we’ll also look at some of the events of His life, some of His teachings… and we’ll do kind of a character study of who Jesus is.

And the key thing we learn about Jesus from the resurrection is that He really is the Son of God. We’re told that explicitly in the writings of Paul, in Romans 1:4…

Romans 1:4 (NLT)
And Jesus Christ our Lord was shown to be the Son of God when God powerfully raised him from the dead by means of the Holy Spirit.

So what it comes down to is this: If the Resurrection didn’t happen, then you’re perfectly free to ignore Jesus and that’s fine. But if the Resurrection is true… well, that changes everything. And you have to take Jesus seriously. You have to recognize that He was more than a man, more than a prophet, more than a good moral teacher… you have to recognize that Jesus was and is divine. He was God in the flesh.

And that means He is alive and well today. And that has tremendous implications for our own future. It means we can have hope for the future. It means that this life is not all there is. It means that if Jesus really did rise from the dead, then He is God and has authority over life and death. And so He meant it when He said…

John 11:25 (NLT)
“I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.”

If the Resurrection is true… and I believe the evidence supports that… then Jesus really can make that promise. For those of us who have placed our faith in Him, who have chosen to follow Him and live for Him, we will live even after dying. We will be raised to eternal life with Him. Paul wrote…

1 Thessalonians 4:14 (NLT)
For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.

If you’re here this morning and have never chosen to believe in Jesus and to live for Him, the question for you is, what are you going to do about it? What are you going to make of the evidence? Will you investigate it further? Will you be honest enough to ask if Jesus really is who He claimed to be? Will you choose to place your faith and your hope in Him, too?

 

 

Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2010 SunriseOnline.ca